All about Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park

Oh Fiordland, New Zealand’s last great wilderness, it’s 1.25 million hectares (that’s over 3 million acres!) of magical countryside tucked away in the south western corner of the South Island. Have a look on a map, it’s the huge section of country with no roads! This national park alone accounts for 5% of the total area of the country so it’s pretty hard to sum up this much land without writing an entire book, and there have been quite a few of those written. So here we’ll focus on one spot in Fiordland that’s probably top of everyone’s list, Milford Sound and the way we like to make our visit to Milford a little different.

Where is Milford Sound?

Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park Location Map

Getting there is half the fun - the Milford Road

When you travel to Milford you’ll realise there was some real hard yakka put in to get this road through, they literally moved mountains and went through them too! The Milford Road is one of New Zealand’s most scenic drives, our Kiwi guides just love getting out there.  Just to get you started, you’ll pass by the two largest lakes in the South Island, Wakatipu and Te Anau, before getting into the park proper. Your guide knows the road like the back of his hand and he’ll show you all his favourite spots, like the Mirror Lakes, the Eglinton Valley, Monkey Creek, the Homer Tunnel and the Chasm before arriving into Milford itself.

Getting out on the water - Cruising Milford Sound

No visit to Milford is complete without getting out on the Sound itself, and we prefer the smaller boats where it’s easy to move around and chat with the guides too. How do we sum up being out on the water in Milford Sound? The word we use is grand. Mitre Peak is the star of the show, at 1692m (5,540 feet) rising from straight the ocean up into the perfect shape of a bishop’s mitre. Huge rock walls and waterfalls everywhere you look characterise Milford, keep your eye out for seals, dolphins and penguins too.  It’s hard to imagine that all this was carved out of the rock by ice but it was, Milford is actually a fiord, not a sound.  As Kiwis, we love Milford Sound too, we always take friends to visit when they’re in town.

Cruising on Milford Sound - Fiordland National Park Tours

Getting back is even more fun - Fiordland by air

Now this is where the real fun starts, after you’ve seen the Fiordland by land and sea, how about soaring above the peaks on a scenic flight back to Queenstown, nothing puts Milford’s grandeur and scale in to perspective better than seeing it from above, combining your cruise with a scenic flight make for the perfect Milford Sound day out. Our pilots Anthony and his Dad Hank grew up round here and have been flying in Fiordland for years, they’ll tell you all about the amazing countryside from Milford Sound, over the main divide and back to Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown. It all seems so close when you fly, maybe they could get a road over those mountains? They tried that back in the gold mining days and it was too hard, someone else tried to get a permit to build a tunnel more recently but that was knocked back too, it’s a World Heritage Area so we don’t need machinery and road crews in that wonderful wilderness thank you very much!

Helicopter flying though Milford Sound in snow - Fiordland National Park Tours

How to fit Milford Sound and Fiordland into your holiday

The road into Milford is a one way route, once you leave Te Anau all roads lead to Milford and stops right there. If you want to include the very best of New Zealand’s South Island in your trip then we reckon travelling to Milford from Queenstown is the way to go, but flying one way of the journey gives you the best of both worlds and cuts that journey time in half! Most people head into Milford for the day from either Queenstown or Te Anau.

Milford Sound for the day from Queenstown

Head off nice and early from Queenstown, stop of a coffee in Te Anau and pick up anything you might need for the day, no cellphone coverage or Wifi at all in Fiordland! Follow the shores of Lake Te Anau into the national park and up to the Main Divide. Our favourite spots on the road are the Eglinton Valley, Mirror Lakes, Knob’s Flat, Monkey Creek, the Homer Tunnel and the Chasm but keep an eye on the time if you’re on a boat trip!

Walking near the Milford Road - Fiordland National Park Tours

How to get to Milford Sound

Flying to Milford Sound

You can fly to Milford Sound from Queenstown really easily, it’s 35 minutes and is absolutely stunning! Flight schedules are timed to work in with the boats, making it really easy to fit in your Milford Sound flight and cruise combo.

From Queenstown to Milford Sound by Road

The distance is 290km / 180 miles and Mr Google will tell you it’s four hours, but we know from hundreds of times going in to Milford you will want more. This will be one of the most memorable roads you’ve even been on and you won’t want to rush through. As well as all the little nooks and crannies to see on the way, it’s actually a pretty tricky road to drive so think about letting a pro do that for you today so you can just relax and take in all the scenery.

From Te Anau to Milford Sound

Te Anau is the gateway to Fiordland and looks right out across the South Island’s largest lake into the national park. Te Anau is also a great spot to visit Milford from, and if we didn’t fly one way to shorten our day from Queenstown this is what we’d do. The distance from Te Anau to Milford is just 120km / 75 miles, but this will be the most stunning 75 miles you ever drive, we always allow 2.5 hours for the trip at least!

Weather in Milford Sound

The weather here is pretty funny, it’s like it’s own little micro climate. It can behave totally differently in Milford than other valleys even right nearby. There is a rain gauge in Milford but we think it’s broken, because last year it said that there was 6,400 mm (250 inches!) of rain but that doesn’t sound right to us! Rain or shine, there’s so much to see in Milford and watch out for those waterfalls!  Travelling across the Main Divide and through the heart of the Southern Alps, State Highway 94, or the Milford Road, can be affected by the weather at times, even closed. Keep up to date with road info, or even better, let someone else take care of the driving and worrying about the road so you can just enjoy the day.

Milford Sound Average Temperatures:

• Summer, December - February. High: 68F, 20C. Low: 48F, 9C.

• Autumn / Fall, March - May. High: 64F, 18C. Low: 39F, 4C.

• Winter, June - August. High: 52F, 11C. Low: 34F, 1C.

• Spring, September - November. High: 61F, 16C. Low: 39F, 4C.

Milford Sound rainfall:

The highest rainfalls months: September, October, November, December with an average of 16-18 rainfall days.

The lowest rainfalls months: February, July, June with an average of  13-15 rainfall days.

Milford Sound in twilight - Fiorldand National Park Tours

Something you didn’t know about Fiordland / Milford Sound

There’s an ongoing rumour that Moose still run around in the wilds of Fiordland. Moose were introduced into New Zealand in the early 20th century, but faded from the public eye (they’re quite shy, the moose) until a spate of sightings in the 1970s. There was even a ‘Moose Man’ employed by the government to go and find whether the moose existed or not (this was the 1970s remember, these kind of government jobs did exist then) and spent years in the bush looking for moose.  Even nowadays a rumour or sighting will emerge, so keep your eyes peeled!

Cruising on Milford Sound - Fiordland National Park Tours

Something you can only do in Milford Sound

The way we like to travel to Milford will make for a day you can’t replicate anywhere - travel one of the world’s most scenic roads, cruise out on Milford Sound then take it all in from above in a scenic flight back to Queenstown! Nice one Stu!

Kiwi Tip for Milford Sound

A super practical one this time, last toilets before Milford are at Knob’s Flat! There’s so much to see on the way in it’s easier than you think to run a little late for your boat, last thing you want to be doing is rushing for the loo and missing your cruise (it’s been done before!).

Fiordland and Milford Sound with MoaTrek

Our day to Milford Sound is always one of the highlights of our tour, everyone’s excited to get on the road from Queenstown bright and early to travel the famous Milford Road, get out on the Sound on a small boat cruise, then fly back to Queenstown over Fiordland and Lake Wakatipu. When we ask people what day of the trip they remember most, so many of our guests say today!

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